Susan's Blog

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Caregiver

There was once a woman who lived in a castle. She had everything she wanted, everything she needed — the finest food, plentiful drink, bountiful silks, warm woolens, the softest leather shoes. Her castle had tall windows cut into pink rock, and they lined the strong walls, curving around the towers and drawing in sunlight from every angle. The woman was known far and wide for her learnedness, her ability to understand even the most difficult of problems, and to solve them for the people of the land in a gentle manner that made them feel both cared for and empowered at the same time. She was beloved by all.

The woman had a son who was as fine a young man as could be, having grown up with her warm attention and beautiful, comfortable surroundings. He was tall, with hair the color of summer meadows, and eyes as blue as the azure sea that spread below the cliffs. He was as handsome as a prince, and upon meeting him girls would sigh with a longing they had never felt before.

And yet the youth was alone. He had no friends, because he could not speak, other than the strange sounds that came out of his mouth. Nor did he look at anyone. His eyes looked just beyond them, as if only interested in something far off. This caused much discomfiture in those who met him, and so that once people spent time with him they would eventually feel their hearts turn away, their eyes searching for an opportunity to move away from him. They learned from one another to smile at him even though he never responded. If they needed him to pay attention, if some danger were imminent, they would touch him gently on the arm. Only then would he look directly into their eyes, but for a flash only.

In that brief moment, people could see something, but they did not get a long enough look to understand what it was. The baker described it as a dream he’d had, where he’d felt happy upon awakening, but knew not why. The miller described the look as the moment the light shifts from winter to spring. People nodded at her description, satisfied, for they understood the importance of that time of year, that softening of air, the unfurling of something wonderful but unseen.

And yet, this sliver of the young man’s mind was so fleeting that it only caused more sadness and frustration among the villagers. And none so much as the boy’s mother.

It may be that her heart was too deeply entwined with his, or that her great mind grew clouded and gauzy with what she wanted so badly, but she simply could not teach him to talk to people or to listen. This felt like a profound failure to her, and this sliced at her soul like a dagger. And yet she forced herself to carry on and to show him how to do things. “If he cannot speak, and cannot think,” she said to herself, “at least he will be able to feed and clothe himself, and to ply a trade.” For her biggest fear was that he would have nothing and no one to look after him when she was gone. And truly, how could others, when they understood nothing about him?

Still, though they found it difficult to witness his strange eyes and hear his coarse sounds, they tried very hard to welcome the young man into their shops, their homes, their gatherings. The mother helped this happen by using her great wealth. Every day she would come down the castle steps with her son and no matter what she was feeling, no matter how tired or sick she might be, she took him into one particular shop or another. She would always take care to greet the proprietor warmly and to ask if he or she might allow her son to stay there, and perform any task for them, no matter how great or small. In return for their patience, she would pay them with a sack of gold.

The son could be seen carrying the heaviest loads of wood, and stoking great fires for the baker. Or he would be walking slowly across town with a set of fine crockery in his arms, careful not to break anything. Or he would be down on his hands and knees scrubbing the dressmaker’s shop till it shone. And he would do it but he would grunt the entire time.  He merely worked like a farm horse, sweating, chattering loudly like a squirrel and never smiling.

He never seemed to remember from day to day what he had been taught the day before. This tried the townspeople’s patience, but because they needed the gold, they tried every day to show him once more what he had done for them only yesterday. “He is a good boy,” the shop owners said to each other, but they really did not believe it. He was simple, useless, except for the tasks they would show him to perform every single day. Though he was a man, everyone saw him as a boy because he knew even less than their own infants.

One night the mother fell deeply asleep. A fairy came to her in her dream and said, “I will give you that which you desire most of all, but you must give up all of your worldly goods. But you will have your heart’s desire.”

Though the mother was asleep, her mind was still working and her heart was still soft and pliable. She knew exactly what she wanted: for her son to be able to take care of himself when she no longer could.

The mother nodded and said, “Take it all. Give my son intelligence so that he may look after himself one day when I die. Maybe he will be a baker, or a miller, or a husband, or a farmer. For every day I have had others show him how to take care of things, how to clean, to cook, to fetch wood and water. But each day he is once again a blank slate. He comes home, eats dinner I’ve cooked and goes to bed without even being able to wash a single plate.” She poured out her heart to the fairy, years and years of anguish over her son ebbed from her, enveloping them in a cloud.

“It shall be so,” said the fairy, and then she flew away. Upon awakening, the woman remembered only that she had had some kind of odd dream. She moved to raise herself onto her pillows to think some more, only to find that she had no pillows at all; she had only a straw mattress on the floor. And the floor was not covered with fine rugs, but was merely packed dirt. She stood and walked the small area within the hut, cold because the hearth had no fire. There was no more castle with pink stone; she had walls of wattle-and-daub, just as everyone else in the village. Her clothing was but one worn gray dress.

“What have I done?” cried the woman. “That fairy tricked me!” She thought immediately of her son, who was still asleep on a pallet on the other side of the room. The morning sun lit up his beautiful face, but it only made her wring her hands. He would have nothing, because of her stupid belief in an evil spirit. “Now I have no gold to pay for my son to learn work!” At that moment, her heart filled completely with so much black sadness that it broke in two. She was overcome with the pain and fell to the floor unconscious.

When she awoke it was nighttime, but several days later. She felt her stomach growl in hunger, and all of her worry returned. She found she could barely lift her head. Though the two halves of her heart could still beat, most of their energy had drained out. She was filled with terror that she might be dying then.

Suddenly she heard a strange sound and turned over slowly, so she could see what it was. Over a flaming hearth stood her son. He was grunting and cawing the way he always did, but something was in his hand. It was a ladle. He looked at it for a very long time; he seemed to be thinking very very hard. Finally he lowered the ladle into the big black pot.

His mother could hear something sloshing around in it. She watched as he stirred, very slowly at first, and then speeding up. When he was finally satisfied, he dropped the ladle on the floor. His mother could not help but sigh in disappointment. But then he stared at the ladle and again, seemed to be looking at it as though he were trying to remember something. Finally, he picked the ladle up off the floor. He put it on the table. Then he looked back at the spatter it had made and once again he stared at it for so long his mother thought he had gone into a trance. At last he reached for a cloth and bent slowly to wipe it up.  He rubbed and rubbed at the floor. Although he had forgotten the soup, he had made the entire floor clean and smooth.

The mother was by now wide awake. The pain in her chest was nearly unbearable. Her stomach growled loudly, so loudly that the son looked up from where he had stood staring bewildered over the black pot of soup, trying desperately to remember something. The noise from her stomach was a sound he recognized and he snapped into awareness, reaching for a bowl on the shelf. He poured the soup carefully, slowly, sweating with the effort to concentrate. But he filled it and then he carried it over to his mother. He set the bowl down next to her, sat down at her side, and stared at her for a very long time. Right into her eyes.

She gasped and then laughed, even though she was so near death. For there, in his eyes, was that sliver of him that showed so rarely. Only this time, though it made him tremble and struggle to breathe with the effort, he continued looking into her eyes. His tears came and dropped onto her hands. He babbled some more and turned away, reaching for the bowl.

He slipped an arm under her head as carefully as a doe tending her new fawn. Ever so gently brought the spoon to her lips. She could feel his body laboring to hold onto his focus. She tried to find him in his eyes again but he could not look again.

But it did not matter. He spooned the soup into her mouth, cradling her in his arm. From time to time he noticed the drops of soup on her chin and eventually remembered how to dab at them with his sleeve.

When she was finished eating, she felt that her heart’s pieces were full but that her spirit was beginning to make her head feel light. He tucked the bedclothes around her, and slowly brought the bowl over to the washbasin. Again, he stared for a long time at the basin. “The time is drawing near, my son,” she said so softly it sounded only like the evening breeze.

But he had heard her. He walked over to her and took her hands. He once again looked deeply into her eyes and showed his tiny light, though it hurt him to do so

She shut her eyes for his sake, but she was suffused by joy. For she knew that the fairy had not lied after all. It had not come the way she thought it would, though she had tried to teach him every trade there was. But he was not a miller nor a baker nor a handsome husband, nor a farmer. But he was enough. And even though he was as slow as the years, he was indeed able to take care of himself.




1 comment

My kingdom…… take it………

— added by Jacquie on Friday, January 26, 2018 at 12:47 pm

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